Militants Release U.S. Writer Held in Syria Since 2012

U.S. freelance writer Peter Theo Curtis, who was abducted in Syria and held by militants from al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, was unexpectedly freed Sunday. Curtis went missing in October 2012 after crossing into northern Syria from Turkey. Negotiations for his release were mediated by Qatar, and the United Nations facilitated his handover in the ...

RAMI AL-SAYED/AFP/Getty Images
RAMI AL-SAYED/AFP/Getty Images
RAMI AL-SAYED/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. freelance writer Peter Theo Curtis, who was abducted in Syria and held by militants from al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, was unexpectedly freed Sunday. Curtis went missing in October 2012 after crossing into northern Syria from Turkey. Negotiations for his release were mediated by Qatar, and the United Nations facilitated his handover in the Golan Heights Sunday evening. Curtis's release came just days after the Islamic State posted a video online showing the execution of U.S. journalist James Foley. After the video was released, reports emerged that European countries and organizations had paid ransoms averaging over $2.5 million to negotiate the release of more than a dozen citizens held with Foley. The terms of Curtis's release are unclear, but U.S. officials denied paying a ransom. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, "The U.S. government does not make concessions to terrorists."

Syria

After less than a week of fighting, militants from the Islamic State overtook Syria's Tabqa airbase on Sunday. The base was the Syrian government's last major position in the northern Raqqa province, which is largely held by the Islamic State. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 346 Islamic State fighters were killed since the group stormed the base on Tuesday, and 170 pro-government forces died, in one of the deadliest battles between the militant group and the regime since the beginning of the conflict. Syrian State TV confirmed government troops had "evacuated" from the base, and the Observatory said the Islamic State had seized control, though clashes continued in the area.

U.S. freelance writer Peter Theo Curtis, who was abducted in Syria and held by militants from al Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, was unexpectedly freed Sunday. Curtis went missing in October 2012 after crossing into northern Syria from Turkey. Negotiations for his release were mediated by Qatar, and the United Nations facilitated his handover in the Golan Heights Sunday evening. Curtis’s release came just days after the Islamic State posted a video online showing the execution of U.S. journalist James Foley. After the video was released, reports emerged that European countries and organizations had paid ransoms averaging over $2.5 million to negotiate the release of more than a dozen citizens held with Foley. The terms of Curtis’s release are unclear, but U.S. officials denied paying a ransom. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, "The U.S. government does not make concessions to terrorists."

Syria

After less than a week of fighting, militants from the Islamic State overtook Syria’s Tabqa airbase on Sunday. The base was the Syrian government’s last major position in the northern Raqqa province, which is largely held by the Islamic State. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 346 Islamic State fighters were killed since the group stormed the base on Tuesday, and 170 pro-government forces died, in one of the deadliest battles between the militant group and the regime since the beginning of the conflict. Syrian State TV confirmed government troops had "evacuated" from the base, and the Observatory said the Islamic State had seized control, though clashes continued in the area.

Headlines  

  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed to have shot down an Israeli "spy drone" near Natanz, the country’s main uranium enrichment site, though no evidence was provided.
  • The main terminal of Tripoli’s airport was destroyed by fire Sunday a day after a group of Islamist militias claimed control over Libya’s capital and the international airport.
  • Israel reported a strike killed Muhammad al-Ghoul, a Hamas official responsible for financial transactions, meanwhile Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Gaza residents to leave sites where militants are operating a day after the military destroyed a Gaza City apartment tower.
  • Britain’s ambassador to the United States said investigators are close to identifying the British-accented suspect in the Islamic State video of the execution of U.S. journalist James Foley.

Arguments and Analysis

Why Egypt’s military orchestrated a massacre‘ (Amy Austin Holmes, The Washington Post)

"There is a similar pattern during the Rabaa massacre. The atrocities unfolded at the intersection of Nasr and Tayaran streets. An army base is on one side of the intersection and a Ministry of Defense building is on the other. As documented by a recent report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), military forces were ‘present in the vicinity of Rabaa’ on Aug. 14. Furthermore, the army opened its military base to snipers, who shot at people from the rooftop of the base. Soldiers drove the bulldozers that cleared everything in their path, allowing the gunmen to advance on the protesters. Army helicopters hovered overhead. Soldiers were stationed at exits and entrances and prevented protesters from leaving the area that was being attacked. Finally, the entire operation was overseen by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who at the time was minister of defense, general commander of the armed forces, chair of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and deputy prime minister for security affairs."

The Fall of Amran and the Future of the Islah Party in Yemen’ (Charles Schmitz, Middle East Institute)

"As the world’s attention was riveted on the lightening conquests of the Islamic State in Iraq, Yemen’s al-Huthi movement made an equally stunning but largely unnoticed military advance on Amran Governorate and captured the provincial capital, Amran, in July. The fall of Amran has extraordinary political significance: The al-Huthi advance dislodged the al-Ahmar family’s grip on the leadership of the Hashid tribal confederation, a central political pillar of the Yemeni Republic since 1962, and threatens the survival of the Islah Party itself.

During the capture of Amran, the al-Huthi destroyed the 310 Armored Brigade, which was allied with General Ali Muhsin, who, along with the al-Ahmar family and a group of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, are the heart of the Islah Party."

— Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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